Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Wizard 101 - The Worst (and Best) Year I've Ever Spent

Seeing as how it's coming up on the anniversary of when I started playing Wizard 101, I decided I would write a review (or rather, a warning to potential newcomers) about the game. After all, it is very important to keep the influence of addictive drugs out of family life.

I've got to say, it's been a difficult year for me. Between being a straight C college student and lazing around the house, it's hard to find time for anything, especially video games. But the moment I saw the commercial for Wizard 101 on Cartoon Network, it was all over for me. There was nothing else that mattered more in my life. From then on it was Wizard 101 all day every day for the rest of my summer break. I thought I could quit anytime I wanted. In fact, I even tried a few times. I was a crowns player (crowns is the in-game currency for buying certain items that cannot be bought with gold), so the way it workedwas I would have 10,000 crowns with which to buy certain areas of the game (and they would go fast, believe me). It would be smooth sailing for a while, but then the dreaded would happen: I would run out. I would try so hard to wait until I had money for more, but the withdrawls would drive me crazy. Finally I would get my hands on some more crowns, and the cycle would begin again. You may be thinking, "Who could do such a thing to our youth?" Well, it's all the fault of one company.

KingsIsle is a notably small video game developer company in Austin, Texas. But don't let their size and seemingly innocuous location fool you. Behind their facade lie devious minds, conspiring their dastardly plans against humanity. And the fact that they have won numerous awards -- including the bronze on a list of top 10 MMO's since WoW and a NAPPA award from Parenthood -- is a testimony to how hard they will work to hook you on their product.

And it makes sense that so many people would get so hooked on it. It's an incredible fantasy world; one in which even a simple kid from a small, unknown world can become a master warlord across the fictional universe called "the Spiral". This game takes you on an amazing journey to distinct worlds that span all of culture and history, from the pyramid-laden deserts of Krokotopia to the steampunk era rooftops of Marleybone. The frightening thing about it is that, when you're caught in the grind of menial quests and finally getting tired of playing, you're sucked in once more by the beauty and unique qualities of the next world in the Spiral. It truly keeps the players coming back for more.

This purple mountain's majesty is centered in a world of deceit, addiction, and a nifty dinosaur.

Not to mention everyone's journey is different. Aside from the typical avatar customization, you can also choose how your wizard functions and grows. So far there are seven different schools for wizards, with seven different types of magic that have different effects on the enemies that players battle throughout the Spiral. Players can choose secondary schools for their wizards as well, or they can mix and match the spells to bring out the strongest potential of their own school's magic. It truly gives players free range to customize their characters to their full extent.

 Warning: when playing this game you will get a sense of euphoria and invincibility. Do not drive or operate machinery while under the influence.

While the main plot of the game is typical (young wizard must conquer the evil villain to restore order to the universe), the branching story lines for each world in the spiral are all unique and very well thought-out. Players are sent on multitudes of small quests that slowly reveal the back story from before things went into chaos, defeating the bottom blocks of the pyramid of bad guys along the way. And as the story becomes more complex, the quests become more difficult, presenting the players with a constant challenge that satisfies their desires to become stronger wizards. Even when questing becomes scarce and the level cap is reached, farming and frequently added developments keep old players coming back to re-experience the feelings of discovery that new players have in spades.

That looks a lot like another kind of crystal, doesn't it?

Aside from all those things being very alluring, the most influential thing about the drug that is Wizard 101 is the fact that the dealers -- I mean, developers -- really listen to the player's suggestions on how to make the product better. They perform regular maintenance to eliminate bugs and add new little features here and there to make the gaming experience better. They truly work hard for the money they get. When players decide to make the leap from the free zone to the paying, they're getting more than just excellent graphics, a killer soundtrack and a well-written story line. They're getting the collaborative effort of very hard-working and talented people... and it's really worth every cent.

It's all fun and games till a magical talking tree loses its eye.

And so fellow players, potential players, and everyone at KingsIsle: I want you to know that I have spent 12 months, many sleepless nights, and around $200 on Wizard 101. And I don't want any of it back :)

Safe journeys, everyone!